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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

ON BEING A WRITER

"True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance..."
Alexander Pope 1688 - 1744 "An Essay on Criticism" (l711) l 162

That quote by Alexander Pope is so true. The art of writing is a talent you are born with, but you must practice it to hone those inborn skills. Like a dancer must rehearse, a musician must practice every day, an athelete must train, a writer must write! Even if all you are writing is notes in a personal journal or a blog , a writer must write something every day to improve the art. Basic ability is not enough, a would-be novelist (or any writer) must observe these 5 important D's.

DESIRE - the desire to write more than anything else (whether it's that novel or travel story or essay, memoir, poem)
DRIVE - the drive to get started
DETERMINATION - the will to continue whatever the stumbling blocks and difficulties encountered along the way.
DISCIPLINE - the disipline to write every day, whatever your mood.
DEDICATION - to the project until the very last page is finished.
And here's an important warning!
Avoid this 6th "D" - DISTRACTIONS, The enemy of all writers.

There's another big "C" that writers need to keep in mind too: COMMITMENT

I know from my own experience as a writer that these 'rules' can be very difficult to follow. But if you really put your mind to it, you can, and it will only be to your benefit. In the last two months I've really made an effort to stay on track, to avoid those DISTRACTIONS and as a result I have succeeded in completing seven new travel articles and begun a new chapter of my novel. My aim is to finish Shadow of the Lion before I go away in mid May. Although this may not be possible, (I don't have much left to write, but it requires a lot of thought and planning) I will definitely give it a try. Because I have written a lot of this novel in spontaneous bits and pieces, now that I'm near the end I have found much of it has been pre-written, so it's a matter of filling in the blanks so that I can forge onward more easily.

I write every day, usually in one of my blogs, on-line or personal journal or jotting notes for the novel and editing/writing bits of it. Now I'm almost caught up on my back-log of travel stories I only have to work on the Chile stories. One thing has held me up, and that is- I need a new printer/scanner so I can scan photos to send off with the new articles. During my last two months I have spent hours, several days in fact, researching markets for my travel articles. I've sent several of my previously published ones out with some success; I've reworked some of the old stories to update them. Now I need to take time to market the rest so hopefully by this weekend I'll be back in business with new equipment.

Besides writing every day, it's important for writers to be involved with literary groups or events. Unfortunately part of being successful is being able to promote yourself and your work. This isn't always easy, especially for me. But I do belong to various organizations such as the Federation of B.C. Writers and the B.C. Travel Writers Association (of which I'm currently the secretary). As well, I'm on the boards of the Pandora's Poetry Collective and a member of Theatre In the Raw. And what would I do without my Monday night writer's group, the Scribblers?
They have helped keep me focused on my novel for many years now and I value their expert critiques. (And hey, guys, when I finally write "the end" on that manuscript there'll be a huge celebration!) I also teach several writing classes so this has allowed me to grow as a writer (It's an experience I find so inspirational and rewarding.) It's taken me a long time, but now I can really say I am "living the writer's life" as writing has become my full-time "job". I'm even doing some manuscript editing and reader's critiques on the side, putting my own writing skills to work.

Some of these notes are taken from handouts I use in my novel writing classes. What does it take to be a writer? but I think the are valuable and wanted to share them. I hope they inspire the reader as much as they have inspired me.

Here are the seven "States of Being" that support a writing career:
1. BE SURE
2. BE DETERMINED
3 BE OPEN
4. BE PATIENT
5. BE CURIOUS
6. BE SERIOUS
7. BE YOURSELF
8. BE REALISTIC! I added this last one because it is probably one of the most important. (See Sam's comments on this blog). One thing I always tell people in my classes (especially travel writers) Don't quit your day job! You are not going to make a lot of money from your writing (even novel writers don't). Unless you are already employed as a journalist on a publication or happen to be one of the rare lucky ones to hit pay-dirt with a run-away best seller (such as the Harry Potter series) don't expect to get rich quick.
And as for marketing your work, and/or finding an agent....that's another difficult task you have facing you.

About that novel: STARTING: If you haven't got an idea for one, forget it. If you prefer painting, cooking or watching TV, forget it. This novel will be with you for a long time (*mine's been with me for years!) so you beter have thought about it beforehand. When it's
ready to be written, you'll know. It will be with you day and night. You'll even dream about it.
Start when you're fresh. Make yourself comfortable. And begin!

"A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author's soul"
Aldous Leonard Huxley 1894- 1963 "Point Counter Point" 1928 Ch. 13





Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A MEME FOR HISTORICAL FICTION WRITERS

A couple of the writers on blogspot (Gabriele and Scott) have participated in this new meme for historical fiction writers. So I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and put in my two-bits-worth. Anybody else up to the challenge?

The questions are related to what historical fiction reading you do and how much, etc.

Straight Historical, Historical Mystery, Hist. Fantasy, Hist. Romance or Time Travel?
I love Straight Historicals and in particular those written about the ancient times.
Historical Figures as Main Characters or Purely fictional characters?
Either, though as I'm writing about Alexander the Great's world myself I do prefer those written about real historical figures.
Historical settings as main setting?
Same as above. And I like visiting those settings as well, if possible.
Hardback, Trade Paperback, or Mass Mkt. Paperback
Hardbacks are nice but bulky to carry around and as I usually do most of my reading while traveling on buses I prefer paperbacks.
Phillipa Gregory or Margaret George?
Margaret George has written sound outstanding books. I admire her dense research details.
Amazon or Brick and Mortar
Neither. I use local bookstores (mainly Chapters)
Bernard Cornwell or Sharon Penman?
I've not read either of these authors.
Barnes & Noble or Borders?
We don't have those stores here.
What is the first historical novel you read?
I couldn't possibly remember exactly, but I always enjoyed Dickens, and books like Ivanhoe. I started writing historical fiction when I was twelve years old.
Alphabetize by author?Title? or Random?
At the moment my book shelves are arranged more or less by subject and/or country or genre.
Keep, Throw away or sell?
I rarely throw books away and never sell them. Books are treasures to be kept.
Jean Lardy or Norah Lofts?
I have no idea who these authors are.
Read with dust jacket or remove it?
Usually with as they are part of the book. (like clothing!)
Stop reading when I'm tired or chapter breaks?
Usually chapter breaks. But as most of my 'pleasure' reading is done on buses, it depends on when I have to get off. I don't generally like stopping mid-chapter.
"It was a dark and stormynight" or "Once upon a time"
"Dark and stormy" appeals to my sense of drama and possibly tragedy. (I seem to have a thing for writing tragedy and love the Greek dramas and Shakespeare.)
Buy or borrow.
Either, though I usually buy special books for my collection.
Buying Choice, Book Reviews, Recommendations or Browsing?
I love browsing book stores and reading cover notes and first pages. But I will occasionally check out books recommended in book reviews or by friends.
Dorothy Dunnett or Anya Seton
Neither
Tidy Ending or Cliffhanger?
Generally I like an ending where there is a good resolution (be it happy or tragic). But once in awhile it's fun to go with the cliffhanger. Gives you something to think about a long time after that last page.
Sticking Close to known Historical fact or Using historical fiction as wallpaper?
As I'm pretty meticulous with my research and like to get things as near to the 'truth' as possible, I prefer using historical fact. However I have one w.i.p. which is purely my own imagination set in Celtic Britain, 4th century BC. and in Greece during Alexander's time. It sort of combines both.
Morning reading, afternoon reading or night time reading?
Depends when I'm taking the bus or when I have a break. I never read in bed.
Series or Stand alone.
Stand alone
Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
I don't know if anyone would have read Ariadne's Brother by Jack Dempsey because although he is an American writer, this book was published in Greece. It's an amazing book and should have been circulated here in North America as well. See if you can find it on Amazon as it is really worth reading! (Because I was so impressed with this book, when I finally got a computer and tracked Jack down and we became email correspondents and he was very helpful and encouraging to me regarding my current w.i.p. Shadow of the Lion.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

MY ROMANTIC LIFE

"Dreams are necessary to life."
Ananis Nin 1903-1977 The Diary of Anais Nin volII 1967 (June 1936, a letter to her mother)

Well, the big "V" day has come and gone with all the sentimentality and nostalgic it always invokes. I didn't get chocolates ( W.W. would cheer!) I didn't get flowers (bought myself a bouquet of red and purple tulips the next day) But I did get lots of calls from family and friends, a couple of e-cards, an invitation to get together for a glass of wine (from my pal Cliffy) and I met my Havana Buddy to listen to some cool, romantic jazz. After all, didn't St. Val intend on it to be a day to remember friends and loved ones? Not the huge commercialized fuss that it has become.

Then next day at my Memoir group we did some writing about "romance" and seduction. How do you like to be seduced ? Pause for thought. At this point in time, most 'seduction' is purely imaginary. Or is it?

There's something romantically appealing about a candlelight dinner, just me and a special guy friend: good wine, delicious food and quiet romantic music playing in the background. To me, this could be an ideal prelude to seduction. But in recent years it's usually just me and a girlfriend engaged in girl-talk in that kind of setting, Or, more likely, just me, alone at a table at a sea-side taverna in Greece, Shirley Valentine style.

Recently I was writing up a travel story about my visit to a little town called Koroni, in the Peloponnese where I'd gone a couple of years ago on a quest to explore Venetian castles in Greece. In remembering and writing about that occasion I realized just how 'romantic' it had been, even though I was alone. Picture this: a sky full of twinkling stars with Mars blinking its red beacon, a full moon shining a path over the sea, and the castle as a backdrop, all lit by a pale green light. I was alone at a sea-side table, just me and my journal, a tasty meal of kalamaria and a carafe of wine, oblivious to the couples at other tables around me. Of course at such times I tend to get sentimental and nostalgic, but I've grown accostomed to this solitary life style and have learned to make my own 'romantic' moments. In that case, seduced by the romantic setting.

I recall many romantic moments of the past, spent with men. Could I ever top those days with Hakki in Istanbul? He was my charming fairy-tale prince. ( Once, a few years later, I was with friends at the Topkapi in the restaurant and realized I was sitting in the exact place where I'd sat when I was with him.) Or how about those unexpected romantic moments on the mountain in Greece when I'd run into my shepherd Mitso on the roadside and we'd stop awhile for an intimate chat. Or, more recently, the seductive gentle touch of my Chilean friend's hand on my arm, his smile...Yes, I think I am easily seduced by smiles. Hakki's flashed with gold, Mitso's was carefree and crinkle-eyed, Anibal's beamed, lighting up the whole room.

All those physicial moments linger in my memory, but mostly I think I am seduced by words.
I remember long talks over wine with Khadar, my Palestinian friend, mesmerized by his stories. I still have letters Hakki wrote to me. ("You are an estimable woman.") I recall snatches of conversation (in Greek) on the mountainside or at the village wine shop with Mitso. I often sat enthralled listening to Anibal's tales of Chile and the revolution. Even going back farther...to my childhood and my youth...the Welsh voice of my father telling me about his life, or preaching his Sunday sermons...my mother's stories at bedtime. I grew up with a love of words, and at a very young age began to write them down, spin my own tales, dream of other exotic worlds. With those worlds, my imaginary life began to unfold...My seduction...My romantic life.

"It's all right for a woman to be, above all, human. I am a woman first of all..."
Anais Nin

"Let men tremble to win the hand of a woman, unless they win along with it the utmost passion of her heart."
Nathaniel Hawhorne 1804-1864 "The Scarlet Letter" 1852 "The Custom House."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

AH, ADONIS!



APHRODITE’S ARROW
A quick-silver spark
like a diamond’s prism
strikes me.
Aphrodite’s silver arrow
turns this cafe bar
into the galaxy.
Reality escapes me.
Fleeting,
swift,
it hits its mark,
sets aflame
the dark night
of my heart.

(A poem I wrote one night in the Latin Quarter)



"The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are."
Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792-1822 "Adonais" st 55

Sometimes I think I ought to have been a romance writer because I am so inclined to romanticize even casual aspects of my life. I tried once. But frankly romance novels aren't really a genre I read a lot of (if any), though I know romance writers are enormously successful.

"If a (wo)man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things, and make them look like truth,
(s)he need never try to write romances."
Nathaniel Hawthorne 18804-1864 "The Scarlet Letter" (1850) "The Custom House."

It's not that I don't have constant romantic thoughts. I do. And yes, in my historical writing I try to weave in 'romance' wherever possible. In my own life, I'm a dreamer, and always have been. I have had my share of beautiful, romantic moments and relationships (and a broken heart). When I am bereft of romance I feel an emptiness inside. Perhaps that's why occasionally I have to let my imagination run rampant.

"A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment." Jane Austen 1775-1817 "Pride and Prejudice" (1813)

The other night, I went out alone (as I usually do) to my favorite hangout, the Latin Quarter.
I've been indoors hibernating for most of the last month or so, aside from going to teach my night school classes a few times a week. In the past month I've written seven new travel stories, and as I went back over the old travel blogs, I've relived those (sometimes romantic) moments of travels in Turkey and Greece. Friday night, desite the rainy weather, I thought it was time to take myself out to listen to some romantic Latin music, see a few friends. Unusual for me to actually have to 'talk myself into' going out. I've been quite content to stay home with the fire blazing, working away at my computer. Anyway, it all turned out to be a good idea...good for my romantic soul, if anything. And I even did a little salsa dancing.

It turned out there were a few friends there who I hadn't seen in quite awhile so I was warmly greeted and welcomed. I have not been going to the L.Q. so frequently of late. Nor have I passed by the familiar places where memories of A. so vivid linger in my mind. As soon as the music played, I felt his spirit there and started to feel nostalgic sad again, because I miss his smile, his charismatic presence. But fortunately there were other distractions -- the appearance of the most gorgeous guy in the world...the Tunisian, who has been absent for a very long time. My, my, my.... What a delicious surprise. To describe this lovely Adonis: he is tall, (looks a lot like Antonia Banderas), elegant and well-spoken. He's Tunisian/Italian (I'd guess mostly Italian) and noted around the scene as one of the 'bad boys' (just the kind I'm always attracted to.)

We had a little chat and he informed me he had moved to the suburbs to be near his son, went back to university and is now teaching French. As he was leaving he stopped to give me a hug and a kiss. Ahh....that made my night! (*sigh!)

I have met some lovely men at the L.Q. Because I'm the older woman, perhaps intriguing because I'm a traveller and writer, I can observe and romanticize all I like from my perch at the bar, and not get deeply involved. But oh! I should be using these Adonises in my novels.

There is one who I call the Babylonian, who is actually a character in my Shadow of the Lion.
I spotted him one night several years ago and was astounded because he resembled exactly the character of Nabarzanes, the Persian Court Advisor, one of the ficitonal characters I had written about. I was intrigued, guessed that he was definitely from the Middle East. Turned out he was from Baghdad (Babylon) and, as he says "Sumerian", not Arab. (He looks exactly like the carved figures of Sumerians found on the walls of Nebucadnezzar's palace.) He's an artist, exiled from Iraq because he was on Sadaam's hit-list. He and I have become very good friends.
In fact, I saw him at the L.Q. the other night too, with his girlfriend. It's always such a pleasure.

The only one absent Friday was the French chef, another one of those beautiful people who I secretly romanticize about, one who, like the Tunisian, takes my breath away! He and I met one night not long before A's illness and death. He has been so kind and thoughtful, always affectionate and very generous with me. I used to run into him on the street sometimes when I lived at the other place and those unexpected meetings would make my day!

So you see? I have lots of material for romantic fiction. And maybe one day they'll show up in my novels. In my other w.i.p. Dragons in the Sky, I based the romantic hero Teague on a man I'd had an affair with (who happens to be a good friend to this day). And when I started that novel, which is a Celtic tale with an Alexander connection, I was seeing an intriguing Palestinian who used to sit and spin yarns with me over glasses of wine, after which I'd spend days writing like crazy. Khadar was my literary catalyst. He used to tease me and say "I don't want to be part of your novel!" But in some ways he was part of it, because he inspired me so much.

Ah, Adonis! The truth is, I need some 'romance' in my life ... a romantic muse... Here it is coming up to another Valentine's Day which I'll spend alone with my fantasies. Well, I can dream, can't I?
(She signs off singing the Shirley Bassie hit "For all the men I loved before...." )

"To her own heart, which was shaped exactly like a valentine, there came a winglike palpitation, a delicate exingency, and all the fragrance of all the flowing springtime love affairs that ever were seemed waiting for them in the whiskey bottle."
Jean Stafford 1915-1979 "Children are Bored on Sundays." (1952) title story

Saturday, February 03, 2007

THE LOST IS FOUND!

"The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many thing seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their lossis no disaster.

Lose something evry day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master."
David Morris Potter 1910-1971 Geography II (1976) "One Art"

Off I went to my Travel Writing class the other night. I usually tote my looseleaf of class notes and books in my back-pack or pull-along bag but this time I decided to show off the snazzy white cloth bag from Maui I'd been given last week at a Maui media luncheon. I was reading on the bus (a fascinating book about Venice by Jan Morris), and after a few chapters felt a bit dozey so I let myself nod off. It's a long bus ride across town. Sometimes I catch up on napping on the way. Before this, a little voice in my head had said "Better put your arm through the bag handle just in case." I ignored this insight. So when I reached my stop I dashed off the bus and...you're right!...to my horror I discovered I had left my bag and notebooks behind! Oh horrors. I hate losing things and it doesn't often happen (except for all the time I lose because of procrastinating).

Of course I was able to conduct the class okay because I've been doing it since 1994, and aside from the nice little Maui bag, there wasn't anything of value to anybody except myself. (I had included some published articles of mine which I wasn't sure I had copies of, and also copies of previous student's published articles which I like to show my classes to prove they too can get published.) Something like that always flusters me though, and I was in a stew all night. Even had a nightmare after lying away awhile thinking about the possible consequences of my loss.

Anyway, I went to the Transit Lost and Found the next morning, and thank goodness the bag and all it's contents were there! But it gave me pause for serious thought. What if it had been something more valuable and irreplacable like a hard copy of my novel or other important notes that I couldn't replace? Of course, I keep my novel on a CD rom as well as floppies, but it would cost a lot of time and money to reprint it all. And suppose it had been a lost travel diary that hadn't been saved on a disk? I've read horror stories of this happening to writers. I seem to recally a story by a well-known actress who had lost her entire memoir off her computer (I suppose because she was forgetting to 'save' as she wrote.) Actually I've done that myself and now have to constantly remind myself to SAVE, SAVE, SAVE!

Has that happened to any of you? Have you lost your precious words? special books? important papers?

"This could but have happened once - and we missed it, lost it forever."

Robert Browning 1812- 1889 "Youth and Art" 1864 st. 17